Is it irreverent to have worship music on in the background?

(Ben Thompson) #1

I help lead a homeless outreach ministry connected to my Church which invite homeless men and women into the Church for hot meals and a brief presentation of the gospel. We have 20-30 regular guests and are building real meaningful relationships. We’re trying to create a warm and loving environment for our guests, most of whom are unbelievers. As part of our setup, we quite often put on worship music in the background. My question is whether having worship music on in the background is irreverent and reveals something is amiss towards our attitude to worship in general? I’m thinking in the first instance of this particular evangelical setting but the more I’ve thought about it, I think the question can be asked too of the workplace and at home. What does having worship music on in the background say about our attitude towards God and the wholehearted worship of Him? Is there a place for background worship music in the sense that the lyrics are words of real truth and faith comes by hearing? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and convictions.

(SeanO) #2

@ben That is a good question. I believe that worship music in the background is part of a believer treasuring God in all that they do and an opportunity for the unbeliever to turn their heart to God. As long as no one is actively engaging in sinful behavior that would offend and quench God’s Spirit, I think it is perfectly reasonable to play worship music in the background and in fact a great opportunity and reminder to thank and honor God as we go about or daily business.

I used to participate in a homeless ministry that served breakfast and offered a message. I will be honest though, it bothered me that they gave the message while then men were eating. I would have preferred them to allow the men to finish their meal and then had the message for those who wanted to listen. I do not necessarily feel it is helpful to trap people into a message because they want food - feels a bit like bait and switch. And if their heart is not in it - if those relationships are not strong enough that they want to stay and hear what you have to say - it seems unhelpful. Perhaps the right approach is to build those relationships and then invite the men to a session after the meal?

A Way of Life for the Believer

For the believer, I believe we see a clear command in Scripture to keep God’s Word and truth before us in all that we do. Even when we walk along the road or go about our daily business. Of course our focus may be on other things, but I think Scripture even commands us to have little reminders all around us of who God is and what He has done. Worship music in the background seems a perfectly valid way of doing this…

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 - Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

An Invitation to the Unbeliever

Worship music in the background can be an invitation to the unbeliever to turn their heart towards God. So, as long as there is no sin being committed actively, I think worship music in the background is find. It would be different if people were engaging in immorality - then I think it would not be okay.

Matthew 11:28-30 - Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Revelation 22:17 - The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life

Isaiah 55:1 - Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

Are those thoughts helpful? The Lord Jesus grant you wisdom.

(Sven Janssens) #3

Very good question for sure.
Music in general in the background does something to the atmosphere in general, which is a good thing.
But as a Christian I believe it to be good to choose the right music.
For myself that would be Christian inspired music. Even Christian contemporary music, not just worship.

Words and tunes do have an effect on a person, atmospheric or attitude or sometimes even energetic and physically.

Also you can make sure the lyrics are alright. Turning on the radio as background music might give you “Highway to Hell” or something like that, which is not really a testimony to our Christian faith. :blush:

That is ofcourse my point of view.
Bless bless

(Ben Thompson) #4

Thanks for your input on this. @SeanO your thoughts are very coherent and you have real Biblical wisdom on this, thank you. I particularly resonate with what you say with regards to the bait and switch of meals and messages among unbelievers. I’ll pray on this and seek wisdom. Off topic slightly but I wonder if we can learn from Jesus on this one, the feeding of the 5000 springs to mind — “But he said to his disciples, " Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”” (Luke 9:14) I think Jesus was doing something interesting here, preparing the scene, perhaps at various levels to lay an appropriate foundation and setting for the subsequent miracle of multiplication.

I see what you’re saying in terms of surrounding ourselves with constant reminders. Much the same way as we put verses in and around our homes through various mediums, truth-saturated lyrics certainly can stir the soul resulting in spontaneous praise and adoration. My concern is that in the ‘Spotify generation’, where background noise of all spectrums is commonplace, we can subtly lose touch with what it means to give God our full attention, in our life of worship, and what does that teach those around us (and our children) about His infinite worth? With regards to background music in the home and in a more private contact, perhaps there’s a place for it so long as the music is in addition to a believer’s regular solitary communion with God and His word rather than their sole experience?

(SeanO) #5

@ben I think that with spiritual disciplines it can be very easy to focus on what we do rather than who we are. Praying in secret is critical to the life of the believer - but that may look different for different people from different generations. What appears to be unfocused to one person might actually be deeply meaningful to another person. The heart is hidden from view, so to speak.

So the passage I would look to is Psalms 51, where King David says that God delights in a broken and contrite heart and I John which says that to love God is to obey Him. I think these are better metrics for our spiritual life than spiritual disciplines, even though I do believe spiritual disciplines are important. Just as King David says that he will make sacrifices to God in Zion, but that a broken and contrite heart is more important than the sacrifices.

In summary, my opinion would be:

  • emphasize a broken and contrite heart
  • do not judge other peoples’ spiritual disciplines / walk by your own or external standards
  • certainly pray in secret in the way that is most beneficial for you and encourage others to do the same

I John 5:3 - In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,

Psalms 51:16-19 - You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

I hope that was helpful. The Lord Jesus grant us wisdom and understanding.

(Ben Thompson) #6

Very helpful insights, thank you.

(SeanO) #7

Glad it was helpful :slight_smile: The Lord Jesus bless you as you grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.

(Timothy Clary) #8

@ben , this is the kind of question that should ilicit quite a few different perspectives- very good!
As written in Ecclesiastes, there is a time and place for things. A good question to ask yourself is, “in trying to witness and present Jesus, what will be the logical outworking of my actions? Will the music have the intended effect?” I read a very sobering book by Kyle Idleman, “not a fan.”. In it, Kyle talks about the difference between being a “fan” vs. being a “follower” of Jesus. If our worship services are like rock concerts, then we may be unwittingly drawing people based on the emotional “high” they get, rather than for the worship. People become “fans” of the experience, but never develop a relationship with their Savior based solely on Him. Could this be akin to the parable of the seed on stony ground (Matt 13:20-21)? I like your statement in your last post about a believer’s “regular solitary communion with God and His word”. There is certainly a time to turn the music off.
Being a musician and playing for churches off and on for over 30 years, I can attest to the power of music to move people. I love good worship music (although maybe a different style than some of the current offerings- probably due to age…), and certainly would not advocate doing away with it. But I’m also aware that music can distort or mask the real message if used wrongly.
I like the suggestion by @SeanO that the message be not during the meal- maybe that’s when you could play the worship music to set the tone, and not have music during the message. Also to expand on @SeanO’s point, we must remember that God does the calling. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry. If God is calling someone, they will be led to stay and listen.

I would recommend reading Kyle’s book. I found it very thought-provoking and helpful in thinking about what it means to follow Jesus rather than just know about Him and “like” Him. And, it’s quite an indictment of the big corporate churches, where membership numbers are the measure of success. It made me think of all methods used to draw people to church, and which ones are truly effective in helping people develop a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Music is a powerful tool to that end, and therefore must be used prayerfully, with the end goal in mind (in my opinion). Maybe my view is in the minority- I was taught by my parents from an early age that performing music in church was my “offering” to God, and was to be treated accordingly. I was not performing for people, but for God. Whether it is Beethoven or Chris Tomlin, my attitude should be the same.
Anyway, just a thought to lend to the discussion. Thank you for serving and being the hands and feet of Jesus.
God bless all here

(Jennifer Judson) #9

Can you expand on your question? Somewhere I’m having a disconnect with the question and why background music would indicate less than a wholehearted worship of God? I’d like to understand better.

(Ben Thompson) #10

@Timbo - really appreciate your well thought through comments, I’m certainly going to check out the book you mention, sounds like a real thought-provoking read. I’m amazed by the depth of discussion on this forum as a whole, it’s a wonderful community to be a part of, the responses and discussions are so well thought through and go into such depth, it’s very precious!

@Jennifer_Judson — sorry if it wasn’t clear, perhaps it’s badly worded or just plain wrong! My thoughts were this: In heaven, it seems we will be doing nothing but worshipping God with all of our being? No distractions, no worship of Him whilst also doing other worldly tasks (driving, cooking, working etc). So I was suddenly struck a while back when I had worship music on the the background that it had subtly become ‘noise’ to evoke a mood and set an overall tone rather for the purpose of directing immediate in-the-moment praise and adoration to Him. I was dipping in and out of the music so to speak, not engaged with it fully. One might well argue that this is indeed a good thing, better than silence. After all, isn’t it good to saturate every possible waking moment of our lives with truth (be it music, scripture etc)? Yes of course, and indeed I’ve listened to many a sermon, song and scripture on my daily commute! But on the flip side, and this is what my question was really getting at, does having background worship/Christian music promote a background kind of view of God, a God who is just so worthy (and longs for) our full undivided attention? I think it’s actually been very well addressed in the comments above. There is certainly a place for background worship music, but if that becomes THE sole experience, some sort of overall mood-setter, or competes with His Word, then I think we would do well to look again at how and when we commune with God in direct worship to Him, without background stimulation. I hope that helps clarify where I was coming from. I’d be interested to hear where you thought the disconnect was specifically?

(Liam Bell) #11

I domt think it does. Chikfa la plays it in the back ground and I think its awesome. Personally I beleive we should be playing more of it. As much as we can.

(Tim Ramey) #12

We own a lodge with a restaurant and feel that background music is essential to the atmosphere. We don’t play any music with words as that can be distracting. Rather, the music is always instrumentals. Not constantly but definitely on Sunday, during our popular brunch, we play various hymns. Without trying to sound spooky, I I believe that there is a subliminal effect that the music has. Music is a powerful tool and I think people find themselves humming the hymn later on. We have had many people who have expressed gratitude for playing such music in a “secular” place. .

(Lori Walker) #13

I tend to agree with @Tim_Ramey , but this is just my own personal opinion as I find music with lyrics is often a distraction to me especially as a musician, myself. I like the old hymns but that’s pretty much it. It’s a fact that there’s subliminal messages in just about everything from music, to television programming, to magazine ads. I find it more common now in secular society than ever. I suppose as a musician I have studied about this particular topic as well as back-masking and find it to be an unfortunate truth, though it’s nothing new. You are correct, music is a very powerful tool, and many people don’t understand just how powerful. It’s good to be discerning, but not paranoid. I always try to be mindful of what I’m putting in my mind. This is just my opinion based on what I’ve personally studied and learned, though. It’s also a personal choice, I think. Just my two cents!

(Lorna Abwonji) #14

I have found all the comments on this question very interesting. this woul never even be a topic here [in Kenya East Africa] infact the music better have lyrics so we can sing along and occasionally break into a dance.
In Kenya Gospel music is the best selling music and artists actually leave the secular music to get into the “gospel music industry” [though some are not really inspirational at all just a way to make money - debate for another day]
If i had a shop [people knowing a believer] an i played secular music, even if people coming in were not practicing Christians, people would think I backslide.
Its a huge debate here is you are saved if one should still listen to secular music

Anyways for us its a huge way to witness to those around us cause Africans just love music and it ministers to people a lot. Even those who don’t practise Christianity don’t really mind [unless they are from a country outside Africa or of another faith]
Even so tolerance level here for music is very high
Just my insight :blush::blush::blush::blush:

(Jennifer Judson) #15


You asked if I could clarify “the disconnect.” I think you post put into my mind denominational beliefs about music, instrumental music, etc. (Some churches do not believe in instrumental music.) So I was wondering if there was an underlying belief about music that was implied in the question. I also think it never occurred to me that Christian music in the background would be problematic.

There really have been great responses. I recall a Sunday School teacher once telling me that in her day job as a wall-paper hanger she was surrounded by a pretty rough crowd of construction workers, plumbers, electricians, etc. So she always had her player with her to create an “atmosphere of praise” in her space. It was her antidote to the crudeness of her surroundings invading her mind.

That appealed to me. My work can at times be stressful and creating a similar atmosphere of praise helped me stay focused on my work and being a good servant and not be drawn into the drama around me.

We can’t have our minds wholly focused on the worship of God in every context in the here and now. For example when driving in traffic we need to pay attention to the road. Surgeons better be giving a patient their full concentration. Still music can assist our brains in performing those tasks better.

I do understand your desire to have your worship be pure and wholly devoted and not allow other practices to somehow minimize it’s importance. So I see where you are coming from now.

I’m wondering if this is an area where we have a great deal of freedom to follow what best opens our heart to hearing God and keeping him present in all the moments of our life.

@Lorna_Abwonji, I love hearing that in East African gospel music fills your souls and makes your feet dance! How wonderful to respond to God with such joy. Maybe I should start listening to your music so I can dance my way through my days.

(Lorna Abwonji) #16

Thank you @Jennifer_Judson I can recommend a few artists that i personally listen to some will be in our native languages so brace yourself but you will get some English ones as well
From Kenya there are
Kanji Mbugua, Andy Mburu, Reuben Kigame, Hellen Mtawali, Alice Kimazi, and Redforth Choir many more
Hope you get a chance.
Blessed week

(Brandon Kehl) #17

That’s very much fine and should be done…stand strong and firm. There are I believe 4 things that heal the soul. Prayer, worship, worship music, and petition of spirit? If they are young play them some Lecrae, Tedashi, and Json…there are others…NF and a quite a few others that are very modern and reach where regular preachers are not able to…
Bless you all in Jesus Mighty and Precious name…
1 Corinthians 12…as well as 13…

Very Respectfully,
Brother Brandon Kehl